I once believed that vigorously brushing my teeth for long periods of time kept them extra-clean: I was wrong, and my dentist was pissed. Overly thorough brushing, it turns out, isn’t only unnecessary—gentle scrubbing for two or three minutes at a time is more than enough to remove plaque—it also wears down the enamel (the outer layer of the teeth) and encourages the gums to recede, both of which can result in sensitivity, infections and cavities.
Over-brushing is also extremely common: 10 to 20 percent of the population have damaged their teeth or gums due to aggressive brushing, according to the Wall Street Journal. And if you have a genetic predisposition to receding gums or grinding—or have had braces—you’re already more susceptible to the unfortunate effects of over-brushing.
All of which suggests that it’s fairly easy to overdo your dental hygiene.
Fortunately, it’s easy enough to develop the proper brushing technique necessary to maintain clean teeth without scrubbing them down to sensitive little nubs. Here are three simple ways to avoid over-brushing, according to the American Dental Association:
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to prevent wear and tear.
- Use short strokes—don’t saw back and forth across the teeth.
- If you’re squashing the bristles while brushing, you’re scrubbing too hard.
It’s also important to replace your toothbrush every three or four months, since the bristles can become jagged and overly abrasive after long lengths of time.
Now, if the damage is already done, don’t freak out: A dentist can fill in the grooves with a bonding material. But of course, that means spending money (and worse still, actually going to the dentist).